Vitamin C is well-known for being an immunity booster. But getting enough isn’t just important for warding off sickness. According to Frances Phillips, RD, a registered dietitian specializing in beauty, vitamin C is important for skin health too. In fact, not getting enough is detrimental.
The recommended daily dose for vitamin C is 65 to 90 milligrams, with up to 2,000 milligrams being considered safe. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to meet the minimum. Phillips explains that there are so many foods that are great sources of this nutrient. “Good sources of vitamin C include raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, papaya, spinach, peppers, kale, kiwi, parsley, sweet potatoes, and citrus fruits,” she says. One serving of spinach, for example, has 28 milligrams, an orange has 82 milligrams, and one bell pepper has a full 96 milligrams. But not getting enough of this important nutrient will greatly affect your skin. Here, Phillips explains the skin benefits of vitamin C—and what happens when you don’t get enough.
Why your skin needs vitamin C
Phillips says there are several reasons why vitamin C is a key nutrient for skin health. “[One is that] vitamin C is able to perform as an antioxidant because it loses electrons easily, so vitamin C can stabilize free radicals that damage tissue,” she says. “Our skin can be damaged by free radicals in our environment, for example from pollution, UV rays, and cigarette smoke.” Phillips explains that without antioxidants to protect us from these environmental toxins, the free radicals would damage the skin, leading to premature aging.
Vitamin C also helps give skin a lustrous glow, which Phillips says is largely because it helps with collagen absorption. “Vitamin C may be contributing to this ‘glow’ because both its role in collagen synthesis and as an antioxidant,” she says. “When cell turnover is slower, it can lead to skin looking duller—and vitamin C helps prevent cell turnover from happening as quickly.”
Collagen is found in foods like eggs, fish, meat, and bone broth (as well as supplements) and helps prevent wrinkles from forming as quickly by keeping skin taut. Phillips explains that anytime someone consumes collagen (whether it’s a food or supplement), it’s always a good idea to pair it with vitamin C because this will make the collagen better absorbed in the body. And if you don’t eat collagen-rich foods regularly, it’s even more important to consume vitamin C because this will help with the body’s own production of collagen.
The same way that vitamin C helps with collagen absorption, Phillips says it helps with iron absorption—another key benefit for your skin. “When iron isn’t absorbed well, it can lead to anemia and dull-looking skin,” she says. The skin benefits of vitamin C are clear. So what happens when you don’t get enough?
How not getting enough vitamin C affects the skin
Since vitamin C helps your skin look vibrant, one effect you may notice right away when you don’t consume enough is that your skin will look duller. But Phillips says there are more detrimental effects than this. “The most notable signs of vitamin C deficiency are gums that bleed easily and broken capillaries under the skin causing pinpoint hemorrhages,” she says. “These are both due to vitamin C’s role in maintaining the integrity of the blood vessels.”
If someone’s vitamin C intake falls below one-fifth of the daily recommended value, Phillips says it will cause even more health problems. “This is when symptoms of scurvy can start to appear,” she says. This includes feeling weak and tired, irritable and sad, experiencing joint pain, and having easily-bruised skin.
Remember how vitamin C is important for iron absorption? Phillips says that this means getting enough prevents skin from healing properly when wounded. That makes accidentally nixing yourself in the kitchen, for example, a lot more serious. Also, besides these skin and health problems, Phillips says a lack of vitamin C can also cause hair loss because iron absorption is key for keeping hair strong.
All of this is pretty eyebrow-raising, but Phillips reiterates that vitamin C is one nutrient that’s truly easy to get enough of. As long as fruits and vegetables are a regular part of your diet, your vitamin C base should be covered. However, if your diet consists primarily of overly-processed foods and you rarely eat fresh produce, you are at risk of being deficient. Our skin can clue us in that there’s a deeper health problem that deserves our full attention. So if your skin is looking a bit dull or bruising easily, it could be a sign that you should up your vitamin C intake. Doing so will have benefits that are way more than skin-deep.
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